WorldScan: December 19, 2002

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Fresh Water Flow to Arctic Ocean Increasing

DURHAM, New Hampshire, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - The average annual discharge of fresh water into the Arctic Ocean from the six largest Eurasian rivers has increased seven percent since 1936, an international research team has found. The six rivers include three of the largest rivers on Earth, the Tenisei-Angara, the Ob, and the Lena - all in Russia.

The authors of "Increasing River Discharge to the Arctic Ocean," published in the December 13 issue of the journal "Science," correlated this increase in freshwater flow to historic patterns of climate change.

Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections for global temperature rise, the authors predict that, if these patterns hold, there will be an 18 percent increase in river discharge over the next 100 years.

IPCC climate models project that the Earth will warm 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) between 1990 and 2100, with most land areas warming more than the global average.

An increase of such magnitude may have "large-scale impacts" on the ocean circulation pattern that brings heat to the northern latitudes, the authors said.

The Russian State Hydrological Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany collaborated with lead author Bruce Peterson from the Marine Biological Laboratory, an independent scientific institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Co-authors from the Water Systems Analysis Group at the University of New Hampshire include Charles Vorosmarty, Richard Lammers, and Alex Shiklomanov.

"Too much freshwater leaking from the land into the Arctic Ocean could reduce or shift the patterns of Atlantic deep water formation and stall the ocean conveyor belt that helps to bring heat to the northern latitudes," explains Charles Vörösmarty, co-author and professor of Earth Sciences at the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space.

"England, for example, without the beneficial effect of this ocean circulation, would plunge into a deep freeze due to its high latitude," he said.

In a self-perpetuating cycle, as temperatures warm globally, evaporation of surface water will increase and more moisture will be held in the atmosphere. This moisture will lead to more precipitation at high latitudes, such as the Arctic, and more river runoff.

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WWF and NorskeCanada Partner for Safer Paper

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - WWF and NorskeCanada have teamed up to improve global forest conservation and advance environmental goals relating to the responsible production of paper. Global in scope, the partnership will develop specific projects that address the manufacturing, marketing and consumption of paper products.

The focus will be on protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems of global significance, improving forest management practices on the landscapes surrounding protected areas, and developing a flagship "value-chain" of paper products produced with high standards of environmental and forestry practices, from forest to manufacturer to retailer to consumer.

NorskeCanada has pledged an initial C$350,000 (US$225,414) over three years primarily to support expanded WWF activities in British Columbia. NorskeCanada is the third largest groundwood paper company in North America and the single largest customer of forest products in B.C.

In the agreement, both partners commit to updating WWF's international report entitled "The Forest Industry in the 21st Century," which will include a section on achieving forest conservation objectives through efficient use of wood fiber in making paper.

NorskeCanada is a leader in the development of lightweight papers, which require less fiber in their manufacture than heavier weights.

NorskeCanada president and CEO Russell Horner said, "We believe that environmental leadership is good for business, because good business isn't just about economics. It's about doing the right thing in all facets of your business and that includes making products with high integrity."

Horner said his company is "driven by a strong internal desire to contribute to forest conservation globally and to improve the paper making value-chain."

"It just takes one snowball to start an avalanche," said Horner, who is talking to like minded companies to join with WWF and NorskeCanada to advance environmental goals.

Both organizations believe that market demand for sustainably harvested wood products can improve forest conservation worldwide.

"We not only thank NorskeCanada for its support of WWF's conservation programs, but applaud its commitment to the environment and its foresight on the future of the forest industry," said Monte Hummel, president of WWF-Canada. "Consumers themselves are driving these changes by choosing environmentally friendly products, such as those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council."

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies both forests and products. NorskeCanada has completed one of the largest industrial runs of FSC certified newsprint in North America.

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Three Gorges Reservoir Will Change Local Weather

BEIJING, China, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - People living near the Three Gorges Reservoir, soon to fill up behind the world's largest dam, will find winters a little warmer and summers a little cooler after water storage begins in June next year, according to the official state news agency Xinhua. The damming of the diversion canal on the project November 6 stopped the natural flow at the Three Gorges.

Meteorologists from the National Meteorological Center and the Hubei provincial and Chongqing municipal meteorological stations in central and southwestern China conducted a seven year weather simulation experiment which yielded these predictions.

The weather changes, which will affect a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) radius of the reservoir on the Yangtze River, will be greater in summer. They will include a moderate increase in rainfall which the Chinese government says will favor the growth of tropical plants, such as citrus and lychee trees.

The results show the extreme highest temperature near the reservoir will fall by four degrees Celsius, while the extreme lowest temperature will rise by three degrees. The rise in humidity might lead to more foggy days, affecting land and water traffic, the meteorologists said.

In addition, the increase in vapor and fog will cause more frequent acid rains, which may move from urban areas to the countryside due to rising wind speeds, the forecasters said.

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Marine Park Urged for New Zealand's Fiordland

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - Forest and Bird is calling for the creation of a network of marine reserves that amounts to a marine park for Fiordland, including marine national parks in Milford Sound and Preservation Inlet. Another organization recommends a ban on commercial fishing throughout all the inner fiords.

Forest and Bird has developed its Fiordland Marine Park proposal in response to a draft Integrated Management Strategy for Fiordland's Fisheries and Marine Environment, which suggests an overarching taiapure for Fiordland with a series of protected areas, and fishery controls. Each fiord acts as an individual ecosystem as there is very little genetic exchange between them, and there are genetically distinct populations within each fiord.

The network of reserves has been put forward by commercial and recreational fishers, iwi and tour operators represented on the Guardians of Fiordland's Fisheries and Marine Environment. The public has until tomorrow to comment on the strategy.

Forest and Bird's Southern Field Officer, Sue Maturin, said the Guardians' proposal is an important step forward, but it "does not do justice" to the international significance of Fiordland's unique marine biodiversity.

"Many people think that the Fiords are already protected as part of Fiordland National Park," said Maturin, "but so far only two small areas are reserved, despite the IUCN recommending that the Fiords should be included in the Southwest New Zealand Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area in 1986."

Fiordland is known worldwide as the place for black coral, and each fiord contains unique marine communities and genetically distinct populations, said Forest and Bird.

"Fiordland's special ecology means that whole fiords need to be protected, and we are disappointed that the Guardians' proposal does not recommend even one complete fiord," Maturin said.

Forest and Bird says representative areas of the entrances to the fiords must be protected, as these are the most productive habitats, especially for crayfish, paua, kina, and blue cod. "These entrance populations provide much of the larvae for the inner fiord populations, and should be protected to help replenish the fish stocks of the inner fiords," the organization said.

The fisheries in many of the fiords are seriously depleted, notes Forest and Bird. Today's crayfish populations are only five percent of what they were in the 1950s, and blue cod are almost gone from Doubtful Sound.

The Guardians' proposal recognises that the fish populations are in need of rebuilding and they have proposed temporary closures for blue cod fishing in Milford and Doubtful Sounds.

Forest and Bird welcomes these proposals but says they do not protect enough of Fiordland's fragile marine habitats, nor do they adequately represent the full range of biodiversity found in Fiordland.

Milford's underwater scenery is just as dramatic as the protected famous Mitre Peak, and Preservation inlet is a distinctive, wild and remote fiord. Both deserve to be a marine national park, the conservationists said.

Maturin says Fiordland is so unique and internationally significant that much of it should be protected. Still the Society recognizes the importance of Fiordland to traditional Maori and fishers so the organization has suggested leaving whole fiords and much of the accessible Doubtful Sound open to controlled fishing.

For more information about Fiordland from Forest and Bird, click here.

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Two GM Derived Foods Win European Approval

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - Two types of cottonseed oil made from genetically modified (GM) cotton can now be legally sold in the European Union, the European Commission said today. This is the first new EU approval of a genetically modified food for over two years - even though there is no de facto EU moratorium on licensing, as there is on genetically modified organisms to be grown or released in the environment.

New genetically modified foods are currently regulated at EU level by the 1997 novel foods regulation. The two cottonseed oils are the 12th and 13th approvals of "substantially equivalent" foods derived from genetically modified crops to be approved under the law. All but one of the first 11 passed before 2000.

To be classified as substantially equivalent, GM derived foods must be indistinguishable from similar non-modified foods and contain no transgenic genetic material or protein.

Under a streamlined approval procedure, a single member state makes a safety assessment and decides whether to approve an application. If it rules in favor, then the Commission simply notifies this fact to other member states.

Stricter controls are on the way that bring licensing of GM-derived foods into line with existing rules on foods made from genetically modified material. From next year, a decision to authorize marketing based on a risk assessment made by one government will be open to objection from all other member states.

In addition, the European Commission will in all cases seek advice from a relevant EU scientific committee.

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Public Welcomed into EU Environmental Decisionmaking

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 19, 2002 (ENS) - Europe has a new law that provides for public participation in environmental decisionmaking. The measure provides for public participation in the preparation of environmental plans and programs in the sectors of waste management, air pollution and protection of water against nitrate pollution, and of projects with significant environmental impact.

The directive implements a part of the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention into European Union legislation.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström welcomed the agreement. "In practice, it will enable European citizens to take part more effectively in environmental decisionmaking which affects them," she said.

"If the public is aware of environmental issues, and involved in decisions, then the decisions are likely to be of a better quality, because relevant information and interests will have been taken into account," said Wallstrom. "And those decisions are also likely to be better implemented and respected, because stakeholders will have been involved in the decision."

The new law also establishes access to justice, giving the public a possibility to challenge the legality of decisions, acts or omissions.

The European Union and all its 15 Member States have signed the Aarhus Convention formally known as the UN/ECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which entered into force on the October 30, 2001.